Outcast is a tale for our times. The events depicted in my book might have taken place a quarter of a century ago but this true story of a maverick Yorkshire businessman who fights back against the City and media elite will resonate with readers today. It is the account of a Northern underdog standing up to the London establishment.
Andrew Cook overcame a childhood blighted by tragedy and trauma to transform a failing Sheffield steel castings firm founded by his Victorian forefathers into a successful manufacturer of defence, rail and industrial equipment. But his refusal to court the City left William Cook PLC vulnerable to attack by a raiding party backed by powerful financial institutions.
The hostile takeover bid descended into one of the most bitterly contested corporate battles of recent times and dominated the business pages of national newspapers and regional titles such as The Yorkshire Post, my former employer. The events took place between the end of 1996 and the beginning of 1997, the dawn of a new era in Britain with an exhausted Conservative government in power, Labour in the ascendancy, and the emergence of the World Wide Web.
I first met Cook in 2011 when I was serving as Business Editor of The Yorkshire Post. It was not long after he’d become embroiled in a political row over the cancelling of a Labour government loan to the Sheffield Forgemasters steel firm. I found him intense but engaging and a world away from the usual corporate types I met on a daily basis. From a journalist’s point of view, he made great copy: our interview was filled with colourful quotes that easily warranted the front page of the YP’s business supplement, and they were backed up by news of his company’s ongoing investment in Britain’s manufacturing capabilities.
Exasperated with the decline of print journalism, I left The Yorkshire Post in 2016 to start my own business, a specialist communications consultancy called Branksome Partners, and William Cook Holdings became one of my clients in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum. Cook had been a longstanding Eurosceptic but he was campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union and I helped yo amplify his concerns about the perils of leaving the single market.
During the lockdowns of 2020, I was doing some research work for William Cook and came across volumes of press cuttings from the hostile bid. It was a treasure trove of pre-digital news material that documented the increasingly acrimonious battle in blow-by-blow detail. It struck me as a tale that was ripe for retelling and would make a brilliant business book. Cook agreed and provided access to his archives, diaries and unpublished memoirs. Outcast is an authorised account although I retained editorial control and consider it to be an even-handed portrayal of the bid and a very complex central character.
A respected international literary agency in London loved the manuscript and pitched it to various publishing houses but, after several months of rejections, I decided to pursue the independent publishing route and sell directly to consumers via Amazon.
Writing a book has been a long-held ambition. Inspired by the likes of George Orwell, Jack Kerouac and Brett Easton Ellis, I decided to become a writer in my teens and pursued a career in journalism after reading philosophy at the University of Manchester, where I co-founded a student magazine called The Code. There must have been something in the water at Whitworth Park as my flatmates included future journalists Dean Kirby, Investigations Correspondent at the i, Tom Pettifor, Crime Editor at the Daily Mirror, and Nick Appleyard, Editor of the Sunday Sport, no less. My own career took me to a staff job at The Mail on Sunday, the editorship of an award-winning media start-up, and the Business Editor’s role at The Yorkshire Post, the one I loved the most. In a way, Outcast is a tribute to that lost world of well-staffed newspapers.
The Financial Times’ Andy Bounds has described the book as “a rollicking read” with “a fascinating cast of characters”. The Spectator’s Martin Vander Weyer called it “a gripping true-life takeover drama”. Celia Walden, the author and journalist, said that Outcast is “tense, taut and beautifully paced”. It is also a timeless story about family, truth and destiny as one man fights to protect his life’s work from the power of the capital.
By Bernard Ginns
Main image: Bernard Ginns. Credit Bruce Rollinson.
Outcast: Cook Versus the City by Bernard Ginns is available to buy now. Click here for more information.